15 In-Person Networking Tips for Veterans

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(U.S. Air Force/Airman Eugene Oliver)

The good news is that things are opening up for in-person meetings, work and events. The bad news is that for the past couple of years, many people relied on online networking to find work, initiate relationships and stay connected.

Whether you're readying to exit the military, have been working in the civilian sector or are recently separated, networking is an important part of growing your career. To leverage the most from face-to-face professional relationships, consider these tips:

1. Be genuine.

Wherever you meet someone new – regardless of the context or circumstances – show up authentically. This means that what you say and offer is genuine and real. You are allowed to keep things private, so resist the urge to share too much, particularly at the outset.

2. Refine your narrative.

Do you have a working elevator pitch? When you introduce yourself to someone new, remember to state 1. What you do; 2. Why you do that work (and what makes you interesting); and 3. Share a short story or example to paint a picture of what you do and what you're looking for.

3. Know your target audience.

The goal isn't to meet everyone. It's to meet and form professional relationships with the people who can help you – sharing insights with you, mentoring or supporting you or hiring you. Know who these people are and what they care about before you set out to build a networking relationship.

4. Do homework in advance.

Before going to a job fair, corporate open house, industry meeting or networking event, research who will be there. Are people attending with whom you've already had conversations? What do you know about them and what they care about? Will you be meeting new people, and what can you learn about them in advance that will help you foster a great conversation? LinkedIn is a great resource for this homework.

5. Consider where to show up.

If you're in a job search, you might believe that every job fair, open house and military recruiting event is a must-attend. Sometimes, however, less is more. While many of these events are free to attend, you'll still need to pay for parking, gas for your car, dry cleaning of your suit and printing of your resume, among other expenses. Focus on the events where your target audience will be and where you'll have the best chance for meaningful conversations with the people you seek to meet.

6. Keep an open mind.

Just because someone (on the surface) doesn't look like they can be valuable to your network, remain open to possibilities. Perhaps they have a wide network, carry a lot of influence in their community or can help you in ways you haven't identified yet.

7. Grow your network.

You're never done growing your network of people you need to know. Always be nurturing and curating the contacts you know, who know you and value what you can offer.

8. Purge your network.

Sometimes, it's healthy to let people go from your network. If their actions run in conflict with your value, if they take more than give or if their value to you has changed, it could be time to say goodbye.

9. Become a resource.

Look for ways to help people you're connected to. Sometimes, the best networking relationships start from a referral to a colleague or helping someone with something outside of your core expertise. Be the person who helps.

10. Ask for help.

Also, be the person who asks for help. No one in your network is a mind reader; tell and show them how they can help you with what you need. They will appreciate your directness, provided that the relationship has established a mutual level of trust.

11. Share your value.

Let others know what you can offer and how they can spread the word for you. If your work is in an area that's different from your contact, they may need you to explain your value proposition in ways they can understand.

12. Focus on eye contact.

When you speak to someone in person, look them in the eyes. Resist the urge to look away, at your watch or cell phone: This sends the message you're uninterested or distracted. Good eye contact tells the person you're focused.

13. Face the person.

A good body language tip is to point your belly button toward the person you're speaking to. This causes you to give more attention, be more present to the conversation and communicates respect.

14. Ask about them.

Don't forget to be "other-focused" as you network in-person. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so have good questions ready to ask to show them you're interested in them.

15. Connect online later.

After meeting in person, connect online to keep the conversation going. Sending a LinkedIn invitation to connect and reminding the person where you met and what you talked about is a great way to show that you were paying attention and want to stay connected.

Enjoy building in-person networking relationships to add to your career today and grow your career into the future.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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